Friday, May 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.1 (Robert Creeley)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert

I bought this online a couple of years ago after Ron Silliman compared my first book, To Be Sung, to this one. I remember my friend Tim Shaner called to congratulate me on having been reviewed by Silliman. I had no idea what he was talking about and so asked if it was a good one. He said, "I don't know, you tell me what you think." 

I went online to read the review. It starts off as a pretty generous one, comparing the work favorably to Words before taking a negative turn, concluding, "To Be Sung is a good book, but confined very much to a retrospective view of poetry. To me that would feel like chains."

It was the first time my work had ever been given so public a notice before, so my emotions were pretty all over the place about it. On the one hand, I was elated to get a review of any kind. On the other, I felt a little unfairly dissed.

(You can click on the link to the right to read the review yourself.)

I wrote dejectedly to Creeley afterwards and sent him the link. It was about a week before he collapsed in a class in NC and had to start using an oxygen tank. At the time, I was working on a special Jacket section devoted to his work and also planning a Buffalo celebration of the release of his Collected Poems. We were going to do it on his 79th birthday that May, which he never reached.

His response was both supportive and pragmatic:

Dear Mike,

I think your book is solid, format, contents, the works. I guess Ron knew I'd feel so, and why not. Anyhow I do think his old time giving it active notice is useful period. Just now we are on the road in Wilmington, NC with minimal netwaork access, so this is just to keep in touch. I see Laura Cerruti has written and all -- and the revised call for materials looks fine. Jacket sure keeps useful, thinking of John Tranter's recent note of issues with Duncan et al. Onward and thanks for all the generous work!

Best as ever,

On the upside, thanks to Silliman I discovered yet another great book of Creeley's. The only reason I hadn't read it before was because I never owned the Collected Poems and this was long out of print as an individual volume. Thankfully, the internet put a lot of these back in circulation for reasonable prices.

On the downside, that was the third to last email I ever received from Creeley. The last, three weeks before he died, was to tell me that he had been using an oxygen tank after the collapse and that he was down in Texas. He attached a photo of the Rio Grande and said, "A couple of days ago we drove down to the border (the Rio Grande) with Mexico, some sixty miles distant -- would that the world were all so specific!"

There's a good recording at PennSound of Creeley from a 1965 reading in Berkeley of "The Rhythm," which opens Words:

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